Italian detective Commissario Guido Brunetti stared out the rocket ship’s porthole, overcome with gloom as he watched Earth’s blue orb recede in the space blackness. He was headed to Mars, to probe an altercation between the American rover Perseverance and the mafia’s rover Fat Gnocchi.
This was distressing. If only he could be back in Venice—his Venice. For 30 years, he had meandered its byways solving crimes; now his creator had written him into her debut sci-fi outer space adventure.
Guido allowed his arm to float up to consult his Hermes Arceau watch, a parting gift from his ungodly rich wife Paola. At this afternoon hour on Earth, Brunetti would fight crime by indulging himself at the Caffé del Doge with a coffee and a glass of white wine. Then, he might add a bottle of mineral water and a brioche. Bartender Giuseppe, one of his snitches, would run down the usual suspects in a current diamond trafficking case. Then another dark espresso and a glass of Rosato. Then more crime tips. Finally a last coffee to wash it all down.
Leaving the café with a buzz on, it was never convenient to return to his police desk in the Questura. This freed author Donna Leon to lead Brunetti through every blessed neighborhood on the cover map in her Venetian novels, ticking off his memories of each church, café, and local hangout as he passed them, strolling until his mind was unemcumbered and he could relax on a bench under the Ponte dell’Accademia, where he had eaten pizza as a school kid.
In keeping with his character, Brunetti had packed Tacitus’s classic Annals of Canals: Letters to a Space Traveller to enjoy in the original Latin. That book was still untouched; instead, our beloved detective was sneak-reading a dog-eared Agatha Christie Orient Express thriller he found in the communal restroom.
So far, the cultured Brunetti had kept quiet about the hygiene on the dirty American space transport. The re-circulated air smelled like old socks; scraps of Dorito bags littered the floor. Attendants served overcooked pasta in squeeze packages on a magnetized metal tray. He had to abandon his cashmere suit coats and wear a tattered g-suit, a white coverall that only someone from Naples might consider chic.
The p.a. crackled alive. The spacecraft commander announced they would be making an unscheduled stop on the asteroid Abeona. Attendants soon would float through the aisle to pick up trash.
The name Abeona unsettled Brunetti. Perhaps only he knew this chunk of space rock was named for the Roman goddess of outward journeys. She protected travellers from danger.
Why the sudden change of itinerary? Brunetti flagged down the Spacex attendant, asking “What have you heard?”
“Comissario Brunetti, I thought you’d know. You are the expert in syllogisms, logic, dramatic tensions, and troubled early Roman playwrights. You also are a student of all of Cicero’s magnificent prose and philosophical postures.”
The woman licked her lips and ran her fingers through her crew cut, saying “Tacitus is the least of your worries.” Her voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper. “Moments ago, we found the corpse of an American gangster in his compartment. The victim had been stabbed 19 times, a most significant number.”
This classic plot resounded with Brunetti. Before he could ask for more details, the attendant stopped him, saying “Beware on Abeona. Earlier commissarios disappeared while stretching their legs on that asteroid.”
Brunetti felt helpless. If only he could stop at a favorite bar to get a coffee and formulate a plan. Still he wondered, thinking: Would he be spending the next 300-pages untangling a mystery on a crappy, barren asteroid?
The attendant tapped his shoulder. “Excuse me, Commissario, we will need your assistance in solving this crime. You’ll have to question the suspects. But first, I am going to re-seat a passenger before we alight on Abeona.”
A trim, woman with styled, whitish hair and an impish grin floated into the seat next to him.
Brunetti beamed. “Donna. At last.”
She gave him a slight smile. “Well, you’ve been working for me for 30 years. I thought I’d give you a heads up.”
Brunetti didn’t respond. He didn’t quite know how. It was a good bet the action on Abeona would be paced but thoughtful—a complex page-turner scrape with memorable characters and a dramatic conclusion on the very last page. Now it was up to Brunetti to view the body, then disembark on Abeona, find a bar, order a coffee, and plunge into the action.
John Hewitt is a former Army cook who now lives in fiery California. His latest novel is Freezer Burn, following the adventures of a not-yet-dead ferret.